Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Koosman Shuts The Door!" - Jerry Koosman- Hall-Worthy & On Par With Zito!!!

In 1968, when I began watching Mets games on tv with my grandfather (in the days of Rheingold beer and Royal Crown Cola), the first pitcher I ever watched was the great Mets' lefty, Jerry Koosman (Nolan Ryan was the second, Tom Seaver the third). That season, the great Koos was an all-star, won 19 games, had an E.R.A. of 2.08, pitched 7 shut-outs and completed 17 games, all of which remain rookie records for the Mets. He was runner-up to the legendary Johnny Bench (my favorite all-time non-Met) in rookie-of-the-year voting, winning the rookie pitcher of the year. Combined with Seaver, he gave us not only the best lefty-righty combo in our teams' history, but one of the best combos of all-time! In 1969, Koosman's second season, he came back with 17 wins, 16 complete games (out of 32 started - an amazing 1/2 of his starts), threw 241 innings, pitched 6 shut-outs, struck out 180 while walking only 68, and had an E.R.A. of 2.28. Best of all, in the '69 series, he beat the Orioles twice, hence the great 1970 Topps Baseball Card, "Koosman Shuts The Door!"

In 1976, the only thing standing between Koos and the Cy Young award was future Met, Randy Jones. Every Met fan knows Koos got robbed, as his 2.63 E.R.A., 21 wins with only 10 losses, 32 games started with 17 completed, 3 shut-outs, 200 strike-outs with only 66 walks, and 247 innings pitched on a team that went 86 - 76 (with Koos responsible for almost 25% of the teams wins!) should have been enough to bring the trophy home. Sadly, Koos had a bunch of other bad breaks while with the Mets. He had arm troubles in 1971, posting a 6-11 record with a 3.04 E.R.A., and this coincided with a downward spiral by the Mets, propped up amazingly (all pun intended) in 1973 by their loss to the A's in the world series, but leaving Koos to pitch for mediocre teams for the remainder of his Mets career. On a better team, with Koosman's stuff, he would have had at least 45 more victories, bringing him up to over 260 victories and a more realistic chance at the hall. In 1979, at the age of 37, Koosman won 20 games for his hometown Twins, and there's no reason that he couldn't have been doing that with the Mets if we provided him with a better product behind him.

Koosman has been compared to the likes of Mickey Lolich, Luis Tiant, Dennis Martinez and Frank Tanana, when it comes to overall stats, but most importantly, at, he is compared to hall-of-fame pitcher Jim Bunning. Let's look at this comparison, and then we'll compare Koosman's stats compared to current star Barry Zito.

Seasons: Koosman - 19, Bunning - 17
20 Win Seasons: Koosman - 2, Bunning - 1
E.R.A.: Koosman - 3.36, Bunning - 3.27
Innings:Koosman - 3839, Bunning - 3760
K's: Koosman - 2556, Bunning - 2855
Comp. Games: Koosman - 140, Bunning - 151
Total Wins: Koosman - 222, Bunning - 224
As you can see, there is little to no difference between their stats. Well, there's one major difference- Koos was 4-0 in 6 post-season games, and Bunning never pitched in the post-season. And the other difference is that Koosman was only on the HOF ballot once, garnering an embarassing 4 votes, and has since been ignored by the veteran's committee.

Bunning was good enough to make the ballot 15 times, and lose the election 15 times as well. Bunning was NOT overlooked by the veteran's committee, however, and so the major difference between these hurlers is that Bunning is a member of the HOF since 1996. He's been a member of the House of Representatives, was an active participant in the creation of the player's association, won 100 games in each league, and threw a perfect game vs. The Mets, on Father's Day, that was witnessed by my father and grandfather. (Quick Note: My grandpa loved baseball, and especially the Mets, but he told my dad that the perfect game bored him. History, it seems, is not always as interesting in person.) Koosman didn't have any of these things going for him, and unlike Bunning, he was usually the second bananna on his pitching staff's (a la Tom Glavine), mostly in the shadow of the great Tom Seaver. If you look, however, just at the stats, you must come to the conclusion that if Jim Bunning is in the HOF, Jerry Koosman belongs as well. This won't happen, however, because the HOF is NOT going to expel Bunning, and Koosman will never get the push he deserves from the veteran's committee.

Furthermore, to put Koosman's career into perspective versus one of the great lefties of today, let's compare him to Barry Zito. Zito has only pitched 6 seasons, but if you simply times his 6 seasons worth of stats times 3 (getting him to 18 seasons, closer to Koosman's number), their stats look like this:

Jerry Koosman

Wins: 222
Losses: 209
ERA: 3.36
Yrs: 19
Innings: 3839
K's: 2556
BB's: 1198
All-Star: 2
20 Game Winners: 2
Complete Games: 140 (26.5% completed games of those started)
Games Started: 527

Barry Zito (extrapolated over 18 years)

Wins: 86 X3 = 258
Losses: 53 X3 = 159
ERA: 3.50
Yrs: 6
Innings: 1209 X3 = 3627
K's: 945 X3 = 2835
BBs: 461 X3 = 1383
All-Star: 2
20 Games Won: 1
Complete Games: 9 (4.8% completed games of those started) X3 = 27
Starts: 188 X3 = 564

Many baseball experts feel that Zito has yet to mature on the mound, on his way to what should be a HOF career, so there's always the possibility that he can exceed these projections. However, using these projected stats, Zito's certainly more qualified than Bunning, has similar numbers still to Koosman, and would be worthy of the HOF. Zito will have made more this year than Koosman did in his entire career, and will make more than Bunning did in his career in less than half of a year. Zito pitches in a time where the DH changes the complexity of line-ups, removing the pitcher as a hitter, and expansion means that Zito doesn't get to face the same teams as many times as his predecessors did (although that could be looked at as a good thing, too.) I am not making a case for Zito's election, rather that when it's his time, he will certainly NOT be overlooked for election, the way that Koosman has. I only wish that Koosman came around today, as he would certainly be a HOFer and be appreciated outside of NY and Minnesota for his greatness on the mound. He will be remembered by baseball card collectors for being the "other player" on the Nolan Ryan 1968 rookie Topps baseball card (I looked at the card back then as Koosman's rookie card), but he will be remembered by me for his 1972 card, which was the 2nd hardest Mets card that year for me to get. The hardest was Gil Hodges, but that was because my best friend, Seth, kept taking them from me. Koosman was hard because both his regular card and his "In Action" cards came in the later (I believe 6th) series of cards, which were not as easy to get as earlier series were. Therefore, I believed that Koosman must be a great player since his card was so hard to come by. That and the fact that he signed an autograph for me at Lum's Chinese Restaurant will always endear him to me. All that aside, though, in this reporter's opinion, Koos belongs in the HOF, right next to his old friend, Tom Seaver.

We'll talk about Keith Hernandez soon...

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